During my first semester of college I constantly talked about New York. I told everyone who would listen about my favorite Indian restaurant, about the Astroturf field behind my high school where we ate lunch (even on 20-degree days), about the East Village community garden where I wiled away hot summer afternoons.
That first semester, I sometimes walked around the neighborhood where I went to high school using Google Street View, zooming in as close as I could on the storefront of Heaven’s Hot Bagel, hoping to see blurry pixelated me sitting by the window. I never found myself, but I found two of my friends walking down East Houston. J. in her army surplus jacket and bright orange heels, R. in all black, hair still long like high school was still in session. I remembered that day. It was maybe the last week before finals. Walking to her house that afternoon, R. and I saw the Google van driving up her block. Two wiry-bodied soccer boys we knew were chasing the van, making faces and waving their arms. R. and I laughed and laughed. Later, sitting on my twin extra long bed in Greenough, I understood the urge to be frozen onto the streets of the city in digital film and wished I’d chased the van, too.
Before long, I was in New York again. Winter break, summer break. The city kept me busy. I would rush between internships and appointments. By the time I was settled into my routine, I was off again, back to Cambridge.
This December, I came home for a few weeks with nothing to do and all of the city to see. My second day back, I found myself caught in a dense crowd on Fifth Avenue, a block from Rockefeller Center. The throngs of holiday shoppers pushed me to the edge of the curb with the force of a great wave. New York didn’t feel like mine to command anymore. And it seemed a crueler city than I remembered. Mothers snapped at their wailing children. Subway doors snapped shut on the arms of desperate passengers, late for work. Men with sunken eyes lay sleeping in the tunnels under Penn Station on Christmas Day.
My last week in the city, I ventured to Queens to visit MoMA PS1 with a friend. When we left at closing time, 6 p.m., the sky was dark and rain was falling. What next? Arepas in Astoria. Should we take the train? No, we could walk the 27 minutes (according to Google Maps). We passed under elevated subway tracks at Queens Plaza, where steam rose from gratings and cars blocked crosswalks like malevolent, growling beasts. Around the corner, an orchid warehouse. The doors of a fish market were painted with underwater seascapes, full of bright pink starfish and neon green anemones. My friend swore he saw a DeLorean parked on the side of the road. This was uncharted territory, and it was anything but scary. As we took our seats, dripping wet, we couldn’t stop smiling.